Edward Snowden Asylum Appeal Revives Debate in France

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By Fayçal Benhassain | September 17, 2019 | 7:09 PM EDT

Edward Snowden, seen on screen, testifies via video link from Russia during a Council of Europe hearing on whistleblowers in 2015. (Photo bt Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images)

Paris (CNSNews.com) – Fugitive from U.S. justice Edward Snowden has restarted a debate here by asking President Emmanuel Macron to grant him asylum in France, six years after Russia took in the former NSA contractor after he exposed U.S. surveillance operations around the world.

“I would very much like Mr. Macron to grant me the right of asylum,” Snowden told the public television network France 24. “We do not want France to become like those countries you do not like. The saddest part of this story is that the only place where a U.S. whistleblower can talk is not is not in Europe but it’s here in Russia.”

“It’s not just France that’s in question,” he said. “It’s the Western world, it’s the system we live in. Protecting whistleblowers, it’s not an hostile act. To welcome someone like me is not to attack the United States.”

The development comes as Snowden releases a memoir, Permanent Record, describing his life and work at the NSA, his exposure of its surveillance operations, and his flight in 2013.

On Tuesday the U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit against him and his publisher, Macmillan, charging that the book violates secrecy and nondisclosure agreements which he signed with federal government agencies.

The suit says all of the profits from the book, including future serialization or movie rights, should be transferred to the U.S. government.

Snowden, wanted in the U.S. for leaking state secrets to the media, has applied for asylum in 27 countries, including France, without success. He reportedly has been given permission to remain in Russia until 2020.

Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet told the RTL radio network she was in favor of welcoming Snowden to France, but Macron’s office then issued a statement saying Belloubet was speaking in her personal capacity.

RTL cited an unnamed close associate of Macron as saying there was little chance that France would grant Snowden asylum. The radio network surmised this was because Macron has made an effort to improve ties with President Trump and would not want to jeopardize bilateral ties.

Nathalie Loiseau, a lawmaker who headed the list for Macron’s party in European Parliament elections last May, said in a radio interview she favored granting asylum in France to Snowden, arguing that he had done the world a service by revealing global mass surveillance.

But she added that the decision was not one for the government but for the Office of Refugee Protection, an independent administrative body that rules on asylum and statelessness applications.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, head of the leftist movement Rebellious France, posted a statement this week urging the government to grant Snowden asylum. Back in 2013, Mélenchon had made a similar call to then-President François Hollande.

A number of other lawmakers at the time had also favored welcoming Snowden to France, including Arnaud de Montebourg, a socialist and former cabinet minister, and Benoît Hamon, a former socialist and 2017 presidential candidate.

In 2014, a petition urging Hollande to grant Snowden asylum was signed by 169,000 people, including prominent politicians from across the spectrum.

The petition read, “France, a country of human rights and freedom of the press, has a particular obligation towards Edward Snowden because its constitution provides that any man persecuted because of his action for the freedom has the right of asylum in the territories of the republic.”

Hollande’s government opposed the calls.

“France, like many other countries, has received, through her embassy in Moscow, an asylum application from Mr. Edward Snowden. Taking into account the legal analysis and the situation of the person concerned, no action will be taken,” its interior ministry said at the time.

Asked if he would go back to the U.S., Snowden answered that he would, but only if he was sure that he would be judged fairly, which he said he doubted. He said he misses his country and his family, who had traveled to Moscow to visit with him.

Opinion polls in 2013 found Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, were fairly evenly divided over whether Snowden should be viewed as a “traitor” or a “hero.”

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